Tag: faith (Page 1 of 2)

Imagination and Marriage and Closure

I’d like to say briefly, especially to those of you who know us well, that Mike and I are in a good place. This piece has been years in the making and by God’s grace we will celebrate our 13th anniversary in a few months. I have written and shared this piece in hopes that it may encourage others who find themselves in low seasons of marriage. I wrote this with Mike’s input in every draft. Honestly, while I’m a little nauseous over the vulnerability of these words being out in the world, I’m also feeling a sense of closure. It’s not that we’ve made it and it’s all sunshine from here on out, but that was a particularly rough time in our story.  Today I’m especially grateful for our God who reconciles and redeems, who always hopes.

I stood before the rack of cards and let out an irritated sigh. I folded another sparkling heart-smattered card closed after reading its equally garish sentiments. Wiping pink and red glitter from my fingers onto my jeans, I reached for another Valentine’s Day card. With each new expression my heart sunk and my frustration rose. Lies! These cards are full of lies and empty romantic nonsense! I wanted to shout in frustration in the middle of the aisle. Were there really married people out there who felt this way? I couldn’t imagine it to be true.

My husband and I were in the midst of a particularly difficult season in our marriage. The stresses of finances, caring for small children, and my own journey pursuing work outside the home added tension to an already tenuous connection…
You can read the rest here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/imagining-better-marriage-actually-improved-mine.html

Minivans and Mortification

If you had asked me last month what I thought about minivans, I would have told you I thought they were great. Such a convenient option for growing families! In fact, I would have mentioned that I drove a minivan for a few years when our kids were tiny–before we got our SUV.

Our SUV was a gift from God. Seriously. We were batting around the idea of getting a new car, and it just happened that a friend was able to get us a CRAZY deal on a fully-loaded used SUV at the dealership where she worked. It was such a gratuitous gift at that point in my life that I was a little afraid of it. Why is this happening to me? Am I reaching for things beyond what I should? Is this some sort of temptation or test? (I may be prone to *slightly* overthinking things. Obviously.) Finally, I got to the point where I just received it for what it was: a gratuitous gift. We needed a new car. We wanted the space. We were offered an SUV that fit the bill, and then some.

Last month I thought minivans were awesome… for you. I wouldn’t have said it exactly like that, but it’s what I meant. Or maybe I didn’t really know that I meant that, but it’s the truth. I know that now because this month we’ve been having some troubles with our SUV and decided that our best option financially is to trade it in and look into purchasing… a minivan.

I don’t know when being an SUV-mom wheedled it’s way so deep inside my persona. There’s really no denying it, though. At Mike’s first mention of the possibility of moving to a minivan I was surprised at the bitterness of my reaction. How stupid. Who cares what I drive? What a privileged position I’m in to be considering trading in one working vehicle for another! Most of my life I’ve been a drive-it-until-it-dies person. What changed?

The best I can come up with is that while I initially received the gratuitous gift in gratitude, somewhere along the way I decided I was entitled to it.

Entitlement starts small; a slippery seed dropped onto the soil of our soul. It’s dangerous and deceptive because most of the plant is under the surface. It sprouts something tiny. Puny leaves that are easily ignored. A twinge of pride over our sweet new ride. A flicker of avarice shoots up; this is good and it is mine. All the while thick roots twist downward at breakneck speed and wrap around the base of our gratitude. The large leaves of gratitude are meant to catch the light and remind us that our source exists outside our self. Everything we need to grow and flourish is freely given.

But those stubborn roots of entitlement stunt the growth of gratitude, and we begin to think that what we have is of our own doing. The once wide plumage of gratitude shrivels, crinkling brown and dropping away until all we are left with is the ugly weed of entitlement. We can try to dress it up a bit, maybe tie on some fake blooms–look at my lovely life on social media!–but the reality is that we are left clutching and hoarding and protecting a plant that will never produce good fruit. This not only leaves us lacking, but is unable to nourish anyone else.

The most common use of the word mortification is to indicate embarrassment or shame, but it also means “the action of subduing ones bodily desires” or “the practice of asceticism by penitential discipline to overcome desire for sin and to strengthen the will.” The medical definition is, “the death of one part of the body while the rest is alive; gangrene; necrosis.” It’s practicing discipline to overcome sin. It’s putting something to death. In my case, the thing that needs to die is my feeling of entitlement to be an SUV-mom. The cool-mom. The slightly-better-than-you, side-eyes at Minivan Mom.

What needs to be mortified is the entitlement that sprouted pride.

I can’t ignore how perfectly timed all this is playing out in this Lenten season where we are reminded of sin’s stranglehold, and thus our desperate need for a Savior. Jesus gets this. Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)

Even though He was already God and lacked nothing, Jesus emptied himself to become like us, so he could obey the Father and die to redeem us. And not just die to redeem us, but “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). The ultimate mortification: the shame of a criminal’s death (though innocent), the complete submission to the Father’s will, the death of His body to pay for our sin.

Jesus humbled himself with pouring himself out to death.  

I’m humbling myself with a new car.

Let’s just sit in the inequality of that for a moment, shall we . . . ?

(Father, make me more like your son!)

With this image fresh in my mind, I am choosing to be grateful for the opportunity to uproot my entitlement.

I am grateful to let go of SUV-mom to embrace minivan-mom.

I am grateful to be shaken awake to see this is not a step backward in some crazy carpool hierarchy, but a tiny death to the sin that SO easily entangles us; has entangled me.

I am grateful for another opportunity to invest in growing my gratitude.

And I’m grateful for affordable, family-friendly, reliable transportation with ample cargo space–perfect for towing a large dose of humility.

 

 

Giving Up Fear for Lent

You know the kid in the movie My Girl who is allergic to everything? I’ve often thought about how I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of the normal terrible things (death, pain, illness, psychopaths), but also not-so-terrible (disappointment) and even kind of weird things (bedbugs–which I’ve never actually encountered but still).

I’ve managed my fear as best I can. I remind myself that it’s an opportunity to grow in courage. I pray. I wake up my husband in the middle of the night to go check on whatever sound I-think-I-maybe-heard (but maybe I was dreaming) but-still-go-check, please! I figured there was no way of getting over this, just a side-effect of an overactive imagination, but then my friend JoHannah Reardon wrote this book about how she gave up fear one year for Lent. And I thought, “What if…?”

What if I could feel more comfortable and courageous in this place, in my Father’s world? Wouldn’t that be worth a 40-day experiment? At worst, I stay the same. At best… freedom from fear? It seems almost too good to be true, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Want to join me? Lent starts next Wednesday, March 1st. Here’s the Amazon link for the book: No More Fear by JoHannah Reardon. It even has Prime shipping! Let me know if you decide to join me. I’d love to hear about your journey!

If you’re still on the fence, check out this interview with JoHannah I’ve included below. Maybe you’ll hear your own voice in her words. I know I did.

*****

Why did you write this book?

I have battled a lifetime of fear and anxiety that began in childhood. I was afraid of everything and didn’t know how to process that fear. When I became a Christian, I knew the answer was in Christ, but I didn’t know how that translated into my day-to-day living. It wasn’t until I took 40 days to give up fear that I realized the stranglehold it had on me.

What motivated you to take 40 days to give up fear?

I did not attend a church that practiced Lent, but I worked with many people who did. I thought it would be useful to examine any habits that I knew I needed help with. So for a couple of years, I gave up food and media as everyone else I knew did, but one year I decided to pray about what I should give up. I felt as strongly as I’ve ever felt anything that I was to give up fear. That 40-day journey was absolutely life changing and broke a pattern that had dominated my life from as far back as I could remember.

What approach does your book No More Fear take to overcoming fear?

The 40 days of giving up fear taught me that I had a warped view of God. Since that time, I’ve been meditating on who God truly is. Knowing his good and loving character has helped me to trust him with all that happens in my life and world. In the book I also wrestle with what it means that God is a judge, that I should fear him, and that he does get angry. By understanding that I don’t have anything to fear from God has been huge in my journey away from fear and anxiety. So, by closely examining God’s attributes, I found that he was faithful and that giving up fear was simply believing that and trusting him with my life.

Is simply knowing who God is enough to overcome fears?

Good question. Before I started my 40-day journey, I knew God’s attributes intellectually. However, I hadn’t engaged my emotions in relation to his attributes. In the vein of Christianity I grew in, emotions were considered unimportant and even unnecessary. I was taught to put emotions aside and just go with what I knew to be true. So much about this is good and necessary; yet, it caused me to so disconnect with my emotions that I denied them. I decided I wasn’t afraid, even though I was terrified all the time. That’s why taking 40 days to just concentrate on my emotions of fear and anxiety were so important. I had to face those emotions head on by acknowledging them and by realizing God was trustworthy enough to deal with whatever was causing me terror. That experience with God was what caused a breakthrough for me.

Since you gave up fear, have you had any relapses?

I had one relapse when my husband was gone on a trip. I heard some noises in the night and felt the old panic begin to rise. I sat up in bed with all the old fears pouring in on me. But then, I felt angry—angry at Satan for throwing this old pattern of fear at me again. I said aloud, “No, Satan! I am not doing this again.” The fear lifted and I went peacefully back to sleep.

Then, when I released No More Fear, I began to (ironically) fear that I had just found something simple to placate my emotions and that I couldn’t really offer help to anyone. But that week, a couple of men murdered someone in the town next to mine. They fled to my neighborhood and a massive search occurred. As the police examined every shed, camper, and nook or cranny a person could hide, general panic took over those in my town. People called me and told me I could come stay with them until these men were caught. I was elated when I realized I didn’t feel even an iota of fear. I would rather face armed murders than return to the prison of fear I’d been locked in for so long.  

What do you hope a reader will come away with?

For everyone who reads my book, I pray the following: that they will be able to identify their fears and rest them one by one at Jesus’ feet, knowing he will banish them. That their experience with God is so powerful they would rather face the worst life can throw at them than return to a life of fear and trembling. That their relationship with Christ becomes so real and palpable that it will affect every part of their lives and permeate it with inner peace.

JoHannah Reardon was a Christianity Today editor for nine years. In that time she built and managed their Bible study site, ChristianBibleStudies.com. She also served as an editor for Today’s Christian Woman and Gifted For Leadership. She currently serves as the senior editor for The Redbud Post. She is the author of 13 books, including devotionals and fiction. Although she loves her work, her favorite things in life are teasing her husband, annoying her children, and spoiling her grandkids. Find out more about JoHannah and her books at johannahreadon.com.

Trusting Joy

This probably comes as no surprise to any of you, but I am not a particularly optimistic person. I consider my cup to be overflowing if it is anything more than half empty. I have faith things will work out in the end, but it’s a hands thrown up, Fine! I hope You can make something of this because it’s going nowhere stomping my feet kind of faith. I am an embracer of the difficult-right-now in which I am living, because that’s everything to me.

I’m just going to say it. To me, joy feels fake. Joy is something peppy and bouncing and smiling too big as I sit in the bleachers and make snarky comments and stew in all the feelings I consider deeper and more meaningful than joy.

I have always viewed joy as shallow. Or for people who were simpler than me. Joy is for people who don’t have the courage to face the difficult-now head-on. Or for white washed tomb hypocrites who must be faking it because there is just no way anyone is naturally like that. No. Way.

Then I met Ann.

We first met years ago when she and her husband were out interviewing and candidating (wish that was a word) for the pastorate of my small wonderful church, where they are now part of the family.

The first thing I noticed, which I have to assume is the first thing everyone notices about Ann, is her intensely joyful smile. I was trying to sneak out of the after church meet-the-new-pastor potluck without being noticed, a ninja-like skill I should list on my resume, when she quickly interrupted her conversation and stopped me. She turned her bright eyes and joyful smile toward me and called me by name because she had made an effort to learn it beforehand and it was like I was caught in her joy tractor beam. I spit out excuses, threw her my best harried mom gotta go face, and hurried away. Besides the fact I am a classic death-before-small-talk introvert, the effervescent joy that was bubbling from this woman was disconcerting. It just couldn’t be real. Therefore I wrote her off right there as someone I could never connect with. (There goes the awesome non-judgey Christian jewel in my crown in Glory.)

Here’s the thing. Disappointment does not disappoint. Which is weird, but you can’t really be disappointed with disappointment. Disappointment is nothing if not fully disappointing. You will be let down every time. You can dig your heels deep into the sucking mud of its consistently dismal worldview and never have to leave. You expect nothing more than survival from life, so that’s what life becomes to you. Existence. Killing time here until it’s time to move into the eternally non-disappointing life, which is such a pale and anemic Heaven that this realization is becoming embarrassing for me to own up to.

Not being disappointed is not the same as experiencing joy.

Joy is risky. Joy is bravely looking into the mocking face of disappointment and choosing to march on. It does not guarantee success or happiness in the short term. Joy is a big picture, long game view of life.

I have finally moved past my rash judgement of Ann mostly because honestly you cannot not like her. I do not think it is possible to perpetually dislike someone who is constantly, genuinely interested in your welfare and encouragement. Well maybe it’s possible but even my little Grinch-heart has melted in the heat of that joy-fire. It certainly helps that in actually getting to know her and do life with her through weekly Bible study together I have witnessed her fight for joy. I have listened in awe and disbelief as she has vulnerably shared her life with our group, which as a mom to four small ones is very similar to my own except that she somehow incredibly manages on even less sleep than me, and she has chosen to live a story of joy. I have witnessed her struggle with the difficult-now and come out ever-smiling. Not in a fake let’s pretend things are better than they are way, but in a triumphant my God will see me through and I know He is working good in this mess way.

It’s a contagious joy. It is, admittedly, still a somewhat uncomfortable for me joy. But I am ready for a new story. My plan is to kick off this journey the same way I do everything else: diving into God’s Word. As I’ve been praying this over He led me to Philippians and I’m excited to announce my first ever blog series I’m calling “Trusting Joy.” The time has come for me to pull my boots out of the disappointment they’ve been stuck in for too long–I hope you’ll join me.

Remember, to Hope

Here we are again, on the eve of another Thanksgiving. Today promises to be a crazy day for me as I’m hosting tomorrow’s feast. This means my day will be spent waging a valiant battle to prepare my home for guests while simultaneously attempting to keep my kids from destroying my efforts. (Yesterday that included moving all the chairs out of the house to thwart my climbing-obsessed toddler’s continuing mission to seek and destroy anything out of his reach). In the midst of all this preparation I have been trying to remember to be thankful. Even as I fold clothes for hours, pick up the living room again, clean the kids rooms again, re-do everything that never stays done again.

There’s a certain amount of reflection that comes along with being thankful. I am thankful in the present tense for the many blessings and opportunities afforded to me in the past tense. Being thankful is a type of testimony, where I search out the Lord’s provision in my life and agree with Him that it is good. Even if it was not that good, through the lens of thankfulness I can always find ways to appreciate God’s sovereignty in the process.

For this reason, of seeking to find ways to be thankful for the past, looking back can also tempt me to a bit of nostalgia. To long for the days when Thanksgiving was it’s own holiday, not just a feast in preparation for the consumer feeding frenzy Black Friday, driving retail workers away from their families to care for the swarming masses. When stores didn’t immediately trade out pumpkins and ghosts for fake fir trees and wrapping. I want to throw myself back into an idyllic past, creating a Thanksgiving set in a Thomas Kinkade painting, light pouring into every window. I want to shake my head with the rest of the Thanksgiving idealists as I see Christmas trappings popping up as the Jack-O-Lantern’s are being thrown out.

And yet.

Yet I too am transported forward in anticipation even as I try to make a point to remember the past with thankfulness. I cannot help but feel a twinge of excitement in my stomach as I revel in my first Egg Nog latte of the season. To glimpse the twinkle of colorful lights as I drive home in the now early dark. To sit with the wishlist and our budget and a prayer that they will somehow decide to become friends this year.

Maybe there is a natural progression from remembrance to anticipation that, like many other things, has been played out to an extreme in our culture tending to gloss over the former for the intoxication of the latter.

Turning to scripture we see over and again God’s people told to remember; commanded to remember by marking time with feasts and ceremonies. Remember how God brought them out of Egypt, remember the signs and wonders, remember how He provided food and water in the most dire conditions. They are not reminded to remember just to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about their thankfulness for His provision around a table laden with turkey and succulent sides. No, they are called to remember for the sake of their future!

James K. A. Smith insightfully touches on this in one of his essays in his book Discipleship in the Present Tense. He writes, “When God constantly enjoins his people to remember, he is always asking them to remember forward, to remember for the sake of the future.” He continues, “When Christians remember, we are not retreating to the past; we are being catapulted toward a future. God’s people inhabit time in this strange tension, where we are called to remember so that we can hope.”

As God’s people we can look back on the many glories and tragedies of our lives with thanks because we have the hope that they all have a purpose in the story of our lives playing out into the overall Story of Life. We can be thankful for His provision in our past reminding us of His faithfulness that has no end. He has been faithful in the past; He will continue to be faithful to us.

Christ calls us to remember with bread and wine His body broken and blood shed for us. Not just to revel in the glory of His sacrifice, but to immerse ourselves in our present hope as we anticipate His return.

Let’s be aware of this tomorrow as we gather and count our blessings (and forget the calories). We will remember His mighty acts, His blessings and provisions in our past. We will even remember the tragedies He helped us endure. Not to reach and claw for a past that will not return, but to fill us with excitement that we serve a living God who worked in our past and will surely continue with us into the future. Truly, the best is yet to come. Advent is coming, Christmas is coming, He is coming back!

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,

O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

—1 Chronicles 16: 8-13, 34

What are you thankfully remembering that gives you hope this year?

 

 

I Need Theology for Days Like This

It started like any other Monday, except for the glaring fact it was technically a Tuesday. Whatever it felt like, it was the first day back to school after a long weekend. A long weekend four of the six of us had battled the stomach flu, myself included, I might add.

In the normal hustle bustle of getting two kids ready for school, one ready for preschool, and the fourth dressed in something he would undoubtedly stain and ruin, my eldest daughter excitedly tells me that today is, in fact, her “Superstar Day!”

I feel the tension start in my shoulders.

Being Superstar just means you’re the teacher’s official helper for the day, but it also means you CANNOT be late for school. If you’re late then you won’t be able to help with all sorts of vital beginning of the day protocol, so your turn is skipped.

It also means that my eldest will now be reminding me every two minutes all morning that we can’t be late. Mom, we really really can’t be late! Mom. Mommy. Mom. Mom. MOM! Not that this will help her in any way to be able to find the shoes that have disappeared or brush her teeth thoroughly and efficiently. It means she will be an emotional wreck tearing through the house apoplectic in search for her shoes and bemoaning the very idea she would need to attend to details like teeth brushing in the face of such trials as these.

I hastily make lunches and throw them into the open backpacks mercifully hanging on their hooks where they’re supposed to be. As I do I catch glimpse of my eldest’s homework folder looking fuller than in should after a long weekend. I curse in my head as I realize it’s the class memory verses I (in a moment of nobility and temporary insanity) volunteered to correct weekly and send back in on Mondays.

I race to the kitchen to grab a red pen and glance at the clock. Seven minutes, I got this. Somehow in the blur of the vomit spattered weekend, last week’s homework schedule with the official verse must have been thrown away. So, I flip through the stack to find the Smart Kid’s paper and begin correcting the rest off it.

Mom! What are you doing?! Mom, we have to go! Moooooom we can’t beeee laaaaate!! Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mom. MOM!

I yell to gather the troops. I even manage to keep my cool when I realize the preschooler has just been doing who-knows-what for the last half hour wandering in her underwear, rolls in last and looks at me like she has no idea what the fuss is about. I redirect her to the clothes I have repeatedly asked her to put on all morning, and have her big sister help her because I cannot have her looking over my shoulder one second longer. The toddler is sitting on the floor screaming that I won’t let him destroy the stack of freshly corrected papers I’m quickly collating. And my elder son is blissfully oblivious having an imaginary battle wielding his Power Ranger morpher.

Miraculously it is only one minute past the ideal out-the-door time as we stumble out into the wide world waiting for us. My eldest sprints ahead to throw open the door of the car. She freezes and turns around to stare at me, eyes bulging. MOM!

And then I too see it. The ginormous dresser my husband had picked earlier in the weekend. And forgot to remove.

The tightly wound rubber band holding the lid on my pressure cooker of emotions was about to snap. I grab for my cell phone so I can share this moment with my wonderful husband, remember there are children present, and send off a quick sarcastic passive-aggressive text instead.

I throw open the broken tailgate which comes crashing back down on top of me. Second try I am able to force it to stay open. With all the strength of my rage I grab the dresser, rip it from the back of the car, and single handedly carry it to the house.

Well that was the original plan anyway. Before I realized it wasn’t the flimsy particle board Ikea decor I am accustomed to. I imagine going full beast-mode and just kicking the thing onto the street and leaving it there. I’m pretty sure it would make a very satisfying crack as it hit…

Gah! Head back in the game. It’s Superstar Day! As if I could have forgotten with my daughter whimpering from the sidewalk.

I move three car seats into the still standing middle row and, as I’m buckling the littlest, shout for my daughter to get in the front seat. She freezes and looks at me with eyes the size of the dirty bowls of cereal left forgotten in the kitchen. But isn’t that illegal?!

Yep it is. You want to be Superstar or not kid?! WE HAVE TO GO.

She sidles cautiously into the passenger seat; stiff, trying to looking taller than she is.

We’re off.

Now comes the awkward moment where we all know what time it is. It’s the time I sing the silly song I made up before we talk about a Bible verse and pray together. I do not feel like a happy, clappy Christian this morning. For a brief second I think maybe this morning I’ll just skip it. I don’t want to be fake and my kids will know the difference. I feel the Spirit turn inside me.

So I pray (out loud) asking God to help me forgive others the way He has forgiven me. That I would live my life the way He would if He were me.

My eldest asks to read the Bible verse from her new (and first ‘official’) Bible she’s been carrying everywhere since she got it. She chooses Proverbs 31:29-30:

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Of all the verses… I grit my teeth. I do not feel like dealing with the Proverbs 31 woman right now.

We skid into the parking lot one minute late and I mentally pray it’s close enough. My daughter jumps from the car and sprints off as I’m speaking the words of the Lord I speak every morning over my kids before they leave the car:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love others as yourself, for this sums up the law and the prophets. For you, Emma Grace Marsden, and you, Logan Vance Marsden, have been called to make disciples of all people, teaching them everything Jesus has taught you. And surely He is with us always even until the end of the age! And remember: Mommy loves you!”

Usually Emma rolls her eyes and taps her foot impatiently, but she’s already long gone. Logan, still so blissfully unaware of the crazy storm raging around him, smiles at me. “Love you too, Mom,” and bounds off to class.

I read on Twitter recently a man, whom I would like to give the benefit of the doubt was trying to be funny, comment that the topics of most interest to women in the Bible have to do with abortion, marriage, and pregnancy. It set my teeth on edge.

No no no no no. No. NO! I need the entire Word of God at my disposal if I’m to have any hope of maintaining any semblance of sanity on terrible Tuesdays. I need good theology to get me through the tough daily grind of just being me. Otherwise I might as well just take Mrs. Job’s advice to her afflicted husband and just curse God and die already.

The Lord does not offer me a stone when I ask Him for bread. He offers a feast! He multiplies my weak efforts. It is by His strength I gain by knowing and loving His Word that I survived Tuesday morning to make it to Tuesday afternoon. Where at WinCo my screaming toddler went possessed on me and threw two dozen packages of tortillas into the cart in his fit of rage at being restrained in the cart seat while my back was turned.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

 

 

 

 

When Life Isn’t A Fairytale

I grew up in what many consider to be the golden era of Disney animation. My all-time absolute you-can-only-pick-one favorite was Beauty and the Beast. I still remember the cool darkness of the theater and feeling my spirit soar as Belle belted,

“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere

I want it more than I can tell

And for once it might be grand

To have someone understand

I want so much more than they’ve got planned”

Me too, Belle! My seven year old heart beat in tune to the story unfolding before me, my half eaten box of Sour Patch Kids (mostly red ones left) forgotten in my lap.

I could spend the next hour analyzing how that one stanza of her song encapsulates my childhood hopes for my life. Maybe it even formed a primitive liturgy that in some way shaped the way I processed my life, though I may be over-thinking.

Probably isn’t a huge surprise she was my favorite Disney princess. She was the reader. My favorite scene of the entire film? The one that took my breath away and filled me with the awe and wonder I think maybe only little seven year old girls can experience? No, not the golden dress in the ballroom. That was amazing, too. And I was super jealous of my neighbor down the street that got to wear that incredible gown for Halloween…

I digress.

No, as you may have guessed, the scene that made my pulse quicken was when the Beast has Belle cover her eyes and leads her to a surprise. She opens her eyes as the curtains are thrown back and dazzling light floods the enormous space that is filled as far as the eye can see with stacks upon stacks of books! Staircases leading to multiple floors, ladders on rollers reaching the highest shelves, and plush furniture beckoning a reader to lounge, to linger in the majesty of the grand library.

As I write this I’m becoming aware this movie may also have played a major role in shaping my hopes for Heaven.

These fairytales I so cherished as a child were kept in my candy wrapper lined pockets through adolescence, but I found living in the abrasive adult world rubs a bit of the sheen off the hopes of childhood. I remember going through a period in my early twenties of feeling embittered toward the princess movies and their empty promises of shining knights and happily-ever-after. I mourned the death of the picturesque life that being in love was supposed to usher in during my early years of marriage.

I grew up and got past my unrealistic expectations. I can still appreciate a romantic princess-y movie, but I’ve traded placing my faith in the stories told by man for the true Story written by God and lived by His people.

One such story I read recently that has been on repeat in my mind is found in 1 Samuel 25. It’s the story of David and Abigail and if you have access to a Bible I strongly urge you to check it out. Or, since you’re obviously reading this on some sort of device with internet access, look it up! I’ll wait.

Seriously, do it.

Doesn’t Abigail just steal the show?! She is wealthy, Disney-princess-beautiful, smart, and loves the Lord. However, her situation is far from idyllic. She is married to Nabal, whose name literally translates: “foolish.” He comes off as kind of a jerk, and she’s left to deal with the fallout.

Instead of bemoaning her situation or blaming her idiot husband for her circumstances, she quickly steps up and takes action to save her family and set things right. Her faith in God’s protection and provision is obvious as she seeks David’s forgiveness for how he was mistreated and states her belief in God’s anointing of him. She boldly proclaims her faith and asks that when (not if!) the LORD takes care of David that he would remember her.

She doesn’t just do all this in secret behind her husband’s back either. Or, well, I guess technically she does. It was kind of an easier-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission situation. Anyway, she does tell her hungover husband the whole truth of what she did the next day.

And he has a heart attack. Or a stroke. Either way he dies from the apparent shock of it ten days later.

In Abigail we see a woman who did not let her circumstances dictate her response. She did not respond emotionally nor does she blame-shift, but reacted quickly with wisdom and faith in God’s purposes. She obviously was highly esteemed among the young men working for her family. She used the great resources she had been entrusted to bless God’s people. She used her influence to maintain peace. Abigail used her cunning and eloquence to defend her position and gain favor with the future ruler of Israel, unbeknownst to her, her future husband.

David gets word of Nabal’s passing and immediately sends for her to take her as his wife. It’s all very knight-in-shining-armor happily-ever-after-y actually.

We don’t hear much of Abigail after this other than she is at one point captured by the raiding Amalekites and David has to fight to get her (and his other wife) back.

So maybe, not so happily-ever-after.

As mentioned, David already has at least one other wife. And, of course, there’s the infamous David and Bathsheba drama to come. I think we sometimes forget Bathsheba wasn’t the only one married.

Maybe not so knight-in-shining-armor either.

Judging by her previous actions, Abigail was the kind of woman who had learned to make the best of any situation the Lord had placed her in. In her I am reminded that my hope should not be tied to any man or circumstance. My hope echoes Abigail’s vow in verse 26, “…as the LORD lives…” It is because He lives, He sees me, and He cares for me that I have hope that no matter what situation I find myself facing, He will surely utilize the gifts He has given me and care for me.

Personally, this means I am not idly waiting on a fairytale circumstance of being “discovered,” or a prince in the form of an awesome agent or publisher to sweep me out of my current situation as stay at home mom and outlet shoe store employee to usher in a new chapter of life as a writer.

As much as I would love to be like Belle, to spend my free time reading and daydreaming of future adventure, I pray I am more like Abigail: serving diligently wherever I am, ready for action, and already proven wise and capable when I am called.

How does Abigail’s story inspire you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Year Blogiversary!

It’s my blogiversary! That is, if you’re reading this and it’s still September 27th and I was miraculously able to bust out this post before midnight. I actually thought it was tomorrow, but after a stop to my dusty old Blogger site I realized I had messed up the date when I transitioned here. Either way I was going to procrastinate so it doesn’t really matter.

A year ago I attempted to do something brave (for me anyway) and clicked “Publish” on this post. Then I went into the bathroom and dry heaved in anxiety while my husband embarrassingly and shamelessly plugged my feat all over the internet. I remember watching my stats with awe and wonder as people began to show up, little orange dots speckling across the map where my closest friends and family lived.

I’ve been reflecting on what this year has taught me.

First and foremost, I committed to and accomplished doing something consistently for a whole YEAR. If that isn’t the Lord Himself moving in my life I don’t know what is. Can I just confide in you that though it has been scary every single time it has also gotten easier? My hands still shake when I send my words out into the void, but, after praying a blessing for the Lord to bring them where He intends, I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out from anxiety anymore.

I learned that comparison and jealously lead to an emotional wasteland littered with the dry bones of those who never found their way out. Through a lot of prayer, I discovered the way out of that depressing, desolate place is with the help of a community of fellow sojourners who are committed to encourage, support, and guide each other through.

I had no idea that as I sat feeling isolated and vulnerable each time that work was in progress. My most popular post was tweeted by Jon Acuff, the author who inspired me through his writing to punch fear in the face and start a blog. I’m constantly challenged to explore new viewpoints through the lovely people I’m now acquainted with on various forms of social media. I’m now part of a local manuscript group. Next weekend, thanks to the support of my family and the wonderful women I have the privilege of doing Bible study with weekly, I’m attending a writing retreat in Chicago with Redbud Writers Guild.

I’m amazed at where I am today being only a year into this gig. Not because I’m blogger-famous, or even successful by most standards, but because I did not really believe that all my mundane todays would string together to produce a sum greater than their parts. I drive carpool, I do laundry, I watch TV with my husband, I raise four kids, I drink wine with the girls, I read, I study my Bible, pray, and seek to live as a disciple of my Lord, Jesus. And I write a bit. And get sucked into social media more than I ought.

Yet, somehow, all the seemingly insignificant days and moments and melt-downs produced something. Not just something, but something good.

So, what’s next? As far as I can see, a lot more todays.

“Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (Psalm 95:7b-9)

That verse is my goal and constant struggle with insecurity all wrapped up in one neat package.

This historical psalm contains a lesson taken from the Israelite’s history. The combination of Meribah and Massah point to the Israelite’s grumbling against Moses because they had no water (Exodus 17:1-7). Their exact words are recorded in verse 3, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” This is AFTER the parting of the Red Sea. AFTER the Lord had began to rain manna down on them. Yup. After all that it totally makes sense that God is going to just abandon them and let them die of thirst in the desert.

In hindsight it appears ridiculous. Of course He’s not going to let them die. After all the miracles they had witnessed to bring them out of Egypt how could they have thought that something as trivial as water was going to be the end of them?

Oh, but I SO get it! How many times have I now witnessed God bless and encourage my work? And still I have the gall to throw a tantrum at His feet and accuse Him of encouraging me only to allow me to spiritually dehydrate. (See my guest post at Bronwyn’s Corner Saturday for details on how that went).

I want to see signs and wonders and be affirmed on a daily basis thank-you-very-much! I want to be equipped in ways that make sense to me. Honestly, I want Him to email me a complete plan for the rest of my life so I have a better idea of where all this effort is leading.

Instead, I am faced everyday with another ordinary today. I listen for His voice in the midst of my ordinary chaos and try to live with a softened heart; open to receive whatever may come. Seeking to quench my thirsty faith with the water of His word. Patiently (and not-so-patiently) praying and waiting to see the sum of faithful years revealed.

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”  Psalm 27:14

 

Thanks for reading, friends! Your encouragement over the past year has meant more to me than you could know. I pray the Lord draws you ever deeper into the riches of His Word!

Heaven

Disclaimer: This is my daydreaming, not a vision or prophecy or even an intellectual assertion on what to expect after death. This is a little girl dreaming about her wedding, a child wondering what they’ll be when they grow up, a kid on Christmas shaking the pretty package to discern the contents…

 

The moment I catch sight of Him, the Him Himself, I break into an all-out run. My eyes burn and sting in the radiant light, blurred by hot tears streaking down my cheeks. I’ve run my whole life for this moment. I push harder, feeling stronger, faster. The strain of the sprint is increasingly effortless the nearer I approach.

Suddenly I’m before Him, and I can’t bring myself to look him full in that wondrous face. It’s just too much; He is too much. Instead I collapse in a heap at His feet. And I weep as I have never wept before. The ugliest of my ugly cries, “Oh Lord, the things I’ve seen! All the things I did. The things I didn’t do! The things I thought. The seasons I endured and questioned if You were really here at all, or if You cared. How did I survive? How could anyone survive that place?!”

My favorite memories of the beautiful times float at the edges of my consciousness, but even in my short (or has it been long? or is it just right?) presence here they are foggy and murky, dim in comparison to this new place.

The volumes I would have to write to get this moment right…

My whole frame shakes under the soul wrenching wailing, relief and regret flow mingled down my face and drip onto still pierced feet. He brought me here, He redeemed me. The thought is as absurd as it is wonderful.

In my sobbing I’m aware of something slipping off my head I had not been previously aware of. My crying slows to a pathetic snivel. There’s a crown lying haphazardly at his feet. An intricate and delicate circlet of three grapevines woven together, gleaming gold with grape sized jewels twinkling between the leaves. Oh good, I’ve done something right. That belongs at His feet. I’m so thankful I have something to offer.

His hand reaches for the diadem. I am undone. I decide I will spend eternity in this moment watching that perfectly pierced hand reach for that beautiful crown. As He leans forward I notice the extravagant crown He’s wearing. My gift is paltry and insignificant in comparison, I feel ashamed.

On impulse I lunge out and cling to Him nearly knocking Him into the back of His seat. I’m crying into His shoulder earnestly wishing I had done more, that I had considered this moment more. So very aware though that there was nothing I could have done to deserve the beauty of all this.

I sigh and my senses are filled with the scent of Him. It is a sweet, indescribable fragrance which initiates a bubbling deep within. In spite of my momentary regret there is an emotion so fierce beginning to boil within me I hesitate to even consider it joy. It is searing, nearly painful but with overwhelming ecstasy that is flooding. I grip Him in an embrace with no intention of ever leaving this perfection.

I hear laughter in the distance, not mocking but gleeful. My eyes pop open and over His shoulder I see we are surrounded by a great group of people. I excitedly realize I know some of the faces in the crowd. Even those I don’t recognize look back at me with a knowing in their gaze and the smiling familiarity of family.

I still refuse to let go.

He speaks my name and I fear I will actually burst into flame at the sound of it.

Surely this is not death for nothing has ever compared to this life! What came before was death, there is no shadow of death here with Him.

He slowly, tenderly releases my life-grip on Him and holds me out at arm’s length: a father getting a better look at his newly returned prodigal. The insecurity threatens to return, I feel vulnerable and exposed in such proximity to perfection. My gaze remains lowered.

He reaches out and lifts up my chin. His eyes blazing, corners crinkled in a smile, looks me full in the face.

Every fiber of my being responds instantaneously to the joyous, passionate electricity, I gasp, “JESUS!”

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes– I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!                 Job 19:25-27

Have you ever thought about what comes after death? I would love to know how you imagine it! Feel free to link up to anything you’ve written on the topic.

Jericho

After nearly eight years out, last week I rejoined the workforce. It’s not much, only about ten hours a week as a sales associate in an outlet shoe store. It is the same shoe store I worked in when I was in eleventh grade. I have walked the gray industrial carpeted floors past the very same spot where I remember realizing I was in love with the guy who would one day be my husband. (And excitedly decided to tell him, only for him to beat me to it and tell me he had a new girlfriend). I’m about a solid decade older than my coworkers, one of whom is actually our babysitter.

I had been praying for more money. Now, that might sound shallow, but I’ve got three kids in private school on a single income. I am nothing if not completely honest with God when I pray; He knows what I need, so why beat around the bush? However, I planned on these prayers leading to either something happening with Mike at work or to some awesome writing opportunity where I could actually make money off something I’m already doing.

Let’s face it, time is not a commodity I have in great supply. I’m currently a junior high youth leader, women’s Bible study leader, church nursery director, and I dabble in the blogosphere. And that’s just what I do in my “free” time. Sometimes though, perfect circumstances are in motion that are just so obviously an answer to prayer that, whether it was the answer I wanted or not, I knew the opportunity to work for an old friend (who was willing to be very flexible with scheduling) was the answer I got.

In my daily Bible reading I’m going through an Old Testament Overview reading plan. Around the time of all this prayer and part-part time employment talk I was reading in Joshua. (Note: the following is not a coincidence. You want to have God speak to you? Put in the effort by being consistently in the Word and believe you have been purposed to read what you are when you are.)

Joshua 6 tells the story of the fall of Jericho (and the walls came a-tumbling down–yeah that one). The Israelites have just crossed into the land God promised to give them after forty years of wandering in the desert. They are now faced with the somewhat daunting task of claiming the land. Jericho looms before them, an advanced fortress with four foot thick walls. No one was just going to sneak up on Jericho. It would have to be taken by extreme force.

So God tells them to walk in circles around the place. Not in military formation, but strung out with priests blowing ram’s horns and the ark of the covenant being carried in the mix. Oh, and they’re not even allowed to talk. They’re to do this once a day for six days, then on the seventh day they’re to walk around the city seven times, blast the trumpets, and everyone shouts. Then the walls fall down and the Israelites will march in and conquer the city.

Sounds pretty cut-and-dried. And, if we’re being honest, kind of ridiculous and a bit tedious.

This story caught me off guard because, though I was already familiar with it, in reading it I was struck with what a perfect metaphor it is for where I feel I’m at in life. I’m doing weird, disjointed things that wouldn’t seem to add up were it not for the common factor that I’m honestly seeking the Lord in all of it as best I know how. I’m writing late into the night, reading books off of seminary lists, selling comfortable shoes for minimum wage, comforting a feverish teething toddler, prepping for Bible study, meal planning, and keeping tabs on my personal heroes of faith via Twitter.

Much like the Israelites must have looked fools to their enemies on the other side of the wall, I am currently marching in my own vulnerability parade. I’m willingly putting myself in situations I don’t feel totally prepared for, anticipating God will show up big, but risking looking ridiculous. (Hence my new video attempts).

Unlike times of more lost “what am I supposed to do” wanderings in the desert of the past, I do believe there is some sort of divine purpose that is set in motion. I just can’t see how it’s all going to work out. I’m just circling around and around and around. Day in and day out living how I hope Jesus would live my life if He were me.

Some words I read in John Calvin’s commentary keep playing in my head: “Though the circulatory movement round the walls might have excited derision, it was afterwards known, by its prosperous result, that God commands nothing in vain.” It is a message the Lord has reminded me of again and again and again. If nothing I’m doing is in vain, then by default it has a purpose. I can view the journey as a burden, or I can trust there are things being shaken that I cannot fathom and make the most of this purposeful, circuitous wandering.

Even Jesus didn’t just march straight to the pinnacle of His ministry at the cross. He first spent time teaching around the countryside and in the cities of the life now being made available, and healing and casting out demons. After a few years of this transient life He was led to die slowly on the horrible, glorious cross where He shouted in victory, “It is finished!” And the earth shook and the very walls of death came tumbling down.

If I give up now I’ll never get to see what’s on the other side of this wall. And who knows how many laps I have left?

******

Thinking of Jericho has been helping me keep perspective on the days it feels like the fatigue and tedium of daily life is going to overtake me. Anyone else experiencing a Jericho season?

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